NCF Nation: Chandler Whitmer

Paula Days was talking on speakerphone Monday night about her son's recent breakout when her husband interjected.

"Right now we're breaking down the North Carolina State-Syracuse game," Calvin Days said. "She's looking at the line. We're looking at personnel, looking at techniques, looking at a particular linebacker getting pushed off the ball. Looking at opportunities and looking at tendencies."

Synjyn Days' parents do this for fun now, as a way of staying involved in their son's career at Georgia Tech, which travels to NC State this Saturday. And as a way of possibly getting back into their part-time careers.

"Really?" Paula cracked, after her husband suggested a return to the sideline upon Synjyn's graduation.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Mike Stewart/Associated PressSynjyn Days has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games for Georgia Tech.
Sure, many football players are the products of parents who coach. But how many grew up with two coaches in their households?

That was the situation Days was raised in, as both his father and his mother coached him at Osbourne Middle School in Hoschton, Georgia. They gave up coaching when Days got to high school, but their lessons — and their extra homework — have stuck with the redshirt senior. Days has stepped up in place of the injured Zach Laskey to tally career-best rushing efforts in each of his last two games, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in both. He ran the option as quarterback at Hillgrove (Ga.) High, served as a backup quarterback during his first two years with the Yellow Jackets and has played A-back and B-back since.

"Everyone on the team calls me the C-back because I've played A-back, B-back and quarterback," Days quipped. "So I pretty much know all the skill positions. But I just look to step in any role where the team needs me. That's the mentality I've always taken -- not really worried about myself but worried about the team's needs and other people. That's how my parents had raised me."

No kidding. His father said the only position Days has yet to play is punter.

"When we coach, the mindset is we had to understand the game," Calvin Days said. "Defensively, we wanted every defensive player to know the other players' responsibilities as well. Our guard could tell you what Cover 1 or Cover 2 or Cover 3 was, and even with Synjyn it was really important. Traditionally you get locked in a position and you just play that. But for us we thought it was important to really know and understand the game, because you never knew where they were going to be."

Calvin, whose dreams to play as a Florida State student were derailed by health issues, was coaching his son's team at Osbourne but longed for more time with his wife and family as a whole. So he invited Paula to join his staff. Her response — "I don't know anything about football" — was expected, but soon enough Calvin had his 5-foot-3, 110-pound wife in the trenches, barking orders as Osbourne's offensive and defensive line coach.

Calvin, a financial analyst, reasoned that the technical aspects of the positions would best suit Paula, an engineer. She would join the rest of the staff in film sessions and even invite players over to the house to help her get up to speed.

This was no ragtag bunch, either — pupils of the Days include current college starting quarterbacks Hutson Mason (Georgia) and Chandler Whitmer (UConn).

"In middle school, all kids are pretty much hard-heads then, but for some reason when a woman tells you to do something, you should probably listen to the woman more," Synjyn said, laughing. "It would hurt more to see my mom disappointed than my dad."

His parents are well aware.

"That's pretty accurate," Paula said. "That's not just for football, but I think life, period. It's interesting how that works out with kids. Dad was a disciplinarian in our house, but I can just give him a look and he goes to tears."

Added Calvin: "She's up at 4:30 every morning herself working out. Traditionally you would have the mom who's compassionate — 'Oh, it's OK' — and he just didn't get that break. [If] he got hurt during the game, she would always say, 'Don't let them see you hurt.' Everyone's like, Is he OK? She's like, 'You better get up.' "

Synjyn Days
Courtesy of Days familySynjyn Days' parents understand the X's and O's of football better than most.
Days' parents still harp on him now. The family has always preached the importance of a healthy lifestyle, regularly exercising together and helping Synjyn with agility drills in the offseason. (His brother, junior end Jabari Hunt-Days, is academically ineligible at Georgia Tech this season.)

Game days offer their own set of challenges for the family, as Paula insists on sitting behind an end zone so that she can get a better view of the offensive line. Synjyn does not need to be told that these last two performances are as much his blockers' doing as his own.

"Although Synjyn may be getting a little bit of recognition for his last two performances, he really can't make the plays if the offensive line doesn't do what they have to do and if the coaches don't make the right call and the quarterback doesn't make the right read," Paula said. "It's definitely a team sport, and I always have to take up for my offensive line.

"You tell them thank you when you make those long runs. He's like, 'Of course, Mom. Yeah, I do.'"

As for his parents' advice off film heading into Saturday?

"The funny thing is it's really more armchair entertainment, because the reality is Coach [Paul] Johnson could probably care less," Calvin said.

As their son thrives with a bigger workload now, though, the Days family's hard-nosed philosophy continues to pay off. Good thing Synjyn was paying attention all those years to his coaches — in the household and out of it.
It’s impossible to debate the 2014 season for Syracuse without the discussion eventually boiling down to this: Terrel Hunt is the ultimate wild card.

Earlier this summer, Dyshawn Davis told us that the Orange would go only as far as Hunt could take them.

Earlier this week, coach Scott Shafer said he was sleeping better at night, knowing the offense was in good hands with Hunt.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipSyracuse QB Terrel Hunt is looking to benefit from improved throwing mechanics this season.
The stats from last season, however, might warrant a few more sleepless nights.

As a runner in 2013, Hunt was pretty good, and his legs clearly helped Syracuse win enough football games to finish its inaugural ACC season with a winning record.

As a passer, however, Hunt was pretty bad.

Throw out his first two starts against Wagner and Tulane — two clearly overmatched opponents that the Orange pounded by a combined score of 106-17 — and it’s hard to see how Syracuse could be overly enthusiastic going into 2014. In 10 games against teams from AQ conferences, Hunt completed 58 percent of his throws, averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and tossed just three TDs to go with eight interceptions.

How bad are those numbers?

Among the 269 QBs in the last five years who attempted at least 200 passes against AQ teams, here’s where Hunt ranks:

  • His 5.1 yards per attempt is the third worst
  • His 8.8 yards per completions is the second worst
  • His rate of 1 TD pass every 78 attempts is the second worst
  • His passer rating of 98.3 is the sixth worst

So, why is Syracuse so optimistic that Hunt can develop into a legitimate passing threat in 2014?

“His elbow is way up,” quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said. “[Last year], he had a tendency to be a little bit below 90 degrees, he’d have a sore elbow and he wouldn’t get his hand on top of the ball. The ball would end up sailing on him, and he wasn’t able to throw the deep ball very well, and that also caused him to over-stride a little bit. It was really all one thing. Keep your elbow up and your hand on top of the ball, and you’ll have control over anything you want to do. And he did it. He could see it on film. I think he understands it now. He believes it. He can feel it. It hasn’t been an issue this year.”

Lester said he tried to work on some of the mechanical flaws in Hunt’s delivery last year, but the quarterback had been thrown into the fire, taking over the starting job in Week 4, and messing with technique is tough in season.

When the season ended, however, Lester and Hunt went to work.

Hunt’s coaches rave about his work ethic and willingness to make adjustments. His athleticism is impressive enough that he’s capable of making plays with his legs, which should open up more passing opportunities, and he’s smart enough to understand how to read a defense and go through his progressions.

In fact, if there was one encouraging sign amid all the ugly stats last year, it was that Hunt always knew why he’d made a mistake.

“There were deep balls he took shots at, it was the right time to take a shot, and he just wasn’t able to put it where he wanted to,” Lester said. “Late in the year, he’d come off the field and tell me exactly what was going on, he was seeing it all, and that’s a good sign for the future.”

Still, it’s fair to wonder if Syracuse’s optimism is misplaced. After all, how many quarterbacks who posted numbers as bad as Hunt’s managed to turn things around?

If we look from 2008 through last season at every QB who attempted at least 200 passes versus AQ competition, completed fewer than 60 percent of those attempts, averaged less than 6 yards per attempt and threw more INTs than TDs, we get 16 names.

Oddly, five of those seasons came last year, including Hunt and another QB in the ACC — David Watford at Virginia. Three more were seniors, so we can’t collect any data on how they performed the following year. So that leaves us with eight QBs who posted numbers similar to Hunt’s and had an opportunity to come back the next season in hopes of improving.

Here’s the list:



So, how’d they do the year after those dismal seasons?

The ugly

Craft lost his starting job in 2009 and attempted just 107 passes, with largely the same results (56.1 percent completions, 6.7 YPA, 2 TD, 3 INT).

The same was true for Smith, who threw 96 passes and was just as bad as a senior (57.3, 5.7, 3 TD, 6 INT).

McEntee attempted just 25 passes his senior season after being passed on the depth chart by sophomore Chandler Whitmer.

Fouch threw just one pass the rest of his career.

And, it’s worth noting, that Watford lost his job at Virginia, too.

The bad comparisons

Scheelhaase was a junior when he had his ugly year in 2012. He was on a terrible team, and his numbers suffered. But he’d started as both a freshman and sophomore and posted solid stats, so when his numbers jumped to 66.7 percent completions, 7.6 YPA and a 21-to-13 TD:INT ratio last year, it was more a return to his career norms than a sudden leap in ability.

It’s the same story for Yates, who was far from great as a freshman and sophomore, but showed signs of promise, starting games both seasons. As a senior, he put together his best season, completing 66.4 percent of his passes against AQ schools, including 16 TDs and just eight picks.

The mixed bag

Gilbert’s story is already pretty well known. After his tough sophomore season in 2010, he played in just two games for Texas in 2011. In 2012, he transferred to SMU and showed some mild improvement, tossing 15 TDs to go with 15 INTs, but still completed just 53 percent of his passes and averaged a lousy 5.8 yards per attempt.

But as a senior in 2013, he put it all together, upping his completion percentage to 66.5, his YPA to 7.0 and tossing 21 touchdowns to just seven INTs. Of course, the level of competition for SMU probably won’t match exactly what Hunt will see in the ACC this year.

The happy ending

The crown jewel of the list is Ponder, and he might be Hunt’s best comparison.

Like Hunt, Ponder was thrown into the fire as a sophomore at Florida State. Like Hunt, he was praised for being an incredibly smart QB with exceptional leadership skills and good athleticism. Like Hunt, his problems came more from being raw rather than untalented.

When Ponder returned for his junior season, he looked like a different player. His completion percentage against AQ teams jumped from 54.8 to 68.4. His YPA jumped from 5.8 to 8.2. As a sophomore, he threw 8 TDs and 13 picks against AQ competition. A year later, he reversed those numbers — 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. By the time he was a senior in 2010, Ponder was a legitimate prospect, and he ended up being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Is that the future for Hunt?

Obviously that’s a lofty standard, but perhaps it’s not unattainable. The quest begins this week against Villanova, but Syracuse’s coaches and Hunt’s teammates already believe they know the ending.


EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Michigan wanted to take the field on Saturday and prove last weekend’s 28-24 win over Akron was something of an aberration in their season. However, what the Wolverines did was the exact opposite. If anything, they looked less composed than they did against Akron and spent a good portion of their game against UConn trailing, before a fourth-quarter rally pushed Michigan to a 24-21 win.

It was over when: The Huskies failed to convert on fourth-and-29 with 1:48 left in the game. It was far from the position Connecticut would want to be in, but after the night the Huskies had, it seemed all too possible that redshirt junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer would be able to create something out of nothing. Whitmer somehow managed to connect on a 26-yard pass to junior wide receiver Deshon Foxx, but it wasn’t enough, and Michigan took a knee with a 24-21 lead.

Gameball goes to: Whitmer. Coming into the matchup with the Wolverines, Whitmer had thrown only three touchdown passes all season. Against Michigan, the 6-foot-1 signal-caller threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns with just one interception while picking apart the Michigan defense.

Stat of the game: Devin Gardner went cold midway through the first quarter and didn’t find a spark until the third quarter. In that time span, Gardner was not only 0-of-7 passing, but he threw one interception, fumbled the ball, was sacked twice (for a total loss of 17 yards) and carried the ball seven times for 32 yards.

What Michigan learned: Maybe it wasn't all preparation. The Wolverines blamed their close Akron victory on a poor week of prep, but this past week they said they prepared better than ever. But the result was largely the same. Perhaps, they need to look more closely at the chemistry of both lines -- an offensive line that failed to get much push all game (though Fitzgerald Toussaint was able to spring out a few times and finish the game with 120 yards on 24 carries) and a defensive line that gave the Huskies huge holes to run through time and time again. And maybe they need to look at Gardner -- a QB who has been lauded as cool under pressure -- who, for most of the past eight quarters, has been anything but.

What it means: Michigan goes into its bye week with the taste of two really nasty games left in its mouth. Gardner had said it always feels like forever when he has to wait to get on the field after a bad performance. Now he has to wait two weeks, and at the end of the road is the beginning of the Big Ten schedule for a Michigan team that is still searching for its identity.
One of the bigger surprises nationally from an NFL draft weekend that produced no shortage of them was just how well UConn fared. The Huskies had a school-record five players selected in the 2013 draft, a number that was tied for 10th-most among all colleges, along with Oregon, Texas A&M and North Carolina.

Gee, which of those is not like the other?

In fact, you could extend that question to include all 13 schools that had five or more players taken in this year's draft. The Tar Heels are the only team among the group of 13 that did not play in the postseason, and that's because the 8-4 program was dealing with a bowl ban.

Do UConn fans look at this year's record NFL sendoff as a positive recruiting tool, or does it just make consecutive 5-7 seasons in Paul Pasqualoni's first two years all the more disappointing?

To be fair, anyone who has followed this program closely either during this past season or throughout the lead-up to the draft should not be all that surprised by the showing this past weekend. Trevardo Williams (fourth round, 124th overall, Texans) led the Big East in sacks in each of the past two seasons, Blidi Wreh-Wilson (third, 70, Titans) was the team's MVP and Sio Moore (third, 66, Raiders) dazzled throughout the evaluation process.

The Huskies, after all, ranked No. 9 nationally in total defense in 2012, allowing just 309.92 yards per game. Four of their five draftees were on the defensive side of the ball, with tight end Ryan Griffin (sixth, 201, Texans) being the lone outlier.

The problem, of course, was an offense that ranked 110th nationally in yards per game, 118th in scoring, 117th in rushing and, most of all, 110th in turnover margin.

Pasqualoni was quick to the point in an interview Monday with the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner:
“Well if you turn the ball over [on offense] and you give up a big play at an inopportune time [on defense] regardless you’re chances of winning are slim,” Pasqualoni said. “That would be my first response to it. The biggest factor in winning football games, still, and it’s no revelation, nothing new and it’s not anything anybody doesn’t know, it’s that the turnover…if you turn the ball over in tight games you stand a good chance of losing, No.1.”

UConn brings back Chandler Whitmer under center and Lyle McCombs in the backfield, along with its entire starting offensive line from 2012. It also stripped George DeLeone of his offensive coordinator duties, though he is still in charge of the line.

Whether all of those pieces, plus the addition of offensive coordinator T.J. Weist, can help the Huskies make the jump to postseason play in 2013 remains to be seen.

Big East spring game previews

April, 19, 2013
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Nine of 10 Big East teams will be through with spring practices come Monday, with Rutgers serving as the outlier. With UConn, Temple and SMU all gearing up for their annual spring games this Saturday, here's a peek at what to look for.

UCONN
Fans in attendance for the noon start at Rentschler Field should keep an eye on how the offense moves under new coordinator T.J. Weist. The Huskies ranked 118th in total offense last year as coordinator George DeLeone was stripped of his duties, though he remains the offensive line coach. But the squad returns all five starters up front to protect incumbent quarterback Chandler Whitmer, as well as top running back Lyle McCombs, as the unit will look to keep pace with a defense that was nothing short of outstanding last season but is down a few stars who will hear their names called next weekend in New York.

Hank Hughes is the new man in charge of the defense, and he has Yawin Smallwood back to anchor a unit that has said goodbye to Sio Moore, Jory Johnson, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The Huskies boast plenty of potential in the middle with linebackers Graham Stewart, Ryan Donohue, Jefferson Ashiru and Omaine Stephens -- but that is just potential, for now.

UConn needs answers on both sides of the ball if it hopes to improve off head coach Paul Pasqualoni's consecutive 5-7 seasons.

SMU
The Mustangs will have an open practice at 9 a.m. local time at Pettus Practice Field, with many current and former players signing autographs afterward. There will be an NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition afterward for kids ages 6 through eighth grade.

The Mustangs are intriguing, first and foremost, because they brought Hal Mumme aboard as their assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. Pairing the Air Raid curator with head coach June Jones and his run 'n' shoot pedigree is a fascinating experiment in and of itself.

Kenneth Acker, who is coming off a second-team All-Conference USA season in the secondary, is another experiment this spring, with the staff splitting the cornerback wide to catch some passes with the offense.

Defensively, the Mustangs are replacing a bulk of their production from last season, with Margus Hunt, Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed all gone. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals must step up at linebacker.

TEMPLE
Head coach Matt Rhule's first spring will feature live kicking and punting, normal scoring and 15-minute quarters. Who will eventually emerge as quarterback, however, is another matter. Juice Granger and Thomas Rumer will see action on the Cherry squad, which is coached by defensive coordinator Phil Snow, while Chris Coyer and Connor Reilly will take reps for the White team, coached by offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield.

Reilly has thrived under the pro-style attack, ascending to No. 1 on a depth chart that was expected to see Coyer and Granger fight for the top spot. Coyer has seen time as an H-back in practice, but Rhule said he will remain under center. Kevin Newsome, out with a shoulder injury, has been moved to H-back.

Reigning conference freshman of the year Tyler Matakevich leads a defense that struggled across the board last season, while Levi Brown and Sean Daniels are the big guys up front worth keeping an eye on.

The live kicking and punting part of Saturday's 1 p.m. contest at Edberg-Olson Hall is worth noting in that the Owls need to replace Brandon McManus, who held the school records for field goals made and punting average.

Q&A: UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni

March, 29, 2013
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Paul Pasqualoni is about halfway into his third spring with Connecticut. ESPN.com caught up with the head coach for a few minutes this week to check on the Huskies' progress as they look to build off consecutive 5-7 seasons.

I know you guys have been pleased with Chandler Whitmer's progress so far this spring. What specifically are you looking to see from him to take that next step moving forward?

Paul Pasqualoni: We're hopeful that, obviously, this is his second year here now and becoming more comfortable with the offense. He's done a good job in Year 1 of knowing what he had to do, what his assignments are. Hopefully Year 2 at the quarterback position he really starts to get familiar and comfortable with what everybody on the offense is doing so that when problems and issues come up on the field, he can get things corrected out there, almost like being a coach on the field in between series, being able to get over with the offensive line, backs, receivers and talk about what happened on the field during the last possession. I really think that when quarterbacks really get to be really comfortable in total schemes of what everybody's doing, that gives them the authority become like a coach on the field, because they know what everybody's doing and they know what happened and they know what's got to be done to get it corrected. So when you look at the great quarterbacks, if you ever on a Sunday watched a [Peyton] Manning or a Drew Brees or a [Matt] Schuab, those kind of guys, you'll notice that on the field they're really authoritative, they're directing people, in between series they're over there if there's an issue with their teammates, or they're talking to the coaches and discussing things that are happening on the field. These guys are great at that because they not only know their position but they know the entire offense and what everybody's doing. It gives them a license to be an authority on it. You're hoping in the development process that Chandler takes a step in that direction this spring.

[+] EnlargePaul Pasqualoni, Bill Belichick
AP Photo/Jessica HillPaul Pasqualoni, right, chats with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick during UConn's pro day.
How much will it help him having five starters back on the offensive line?

PP: It's going to help a great deal, especially in the context of what I'm talking about. They've been through it -- the communication process with the offensive linemen in the run game, in the pass game; obviously should be really more advanced the second year than it was the first, so that's a big part of it this year.

What do you expect transition-wise with a new coordinator [T.J. Weist] this spring? Do you expect to have the whole offense installed by the end of the spring or does that process take a bit longer?

PP: I expect it to go pretty smoothly. We're learning our offensive terminology and that type of stuff has not really changed, so there's going to be somewhat of a transition, but I hope it would be minimal and that we'd be moving along in that area.

Defensively you lose some pretty talented guys at linebacker. What are you looking for from that position this spring?

PP: We're looking, first of all, Yawin Smallwood's coming back, he's a pretty good anchor there in the middle of the defense. We're looking for Graham Stewart to see exactly what Graham can do this spring. Ryan Donohue I think is practicing really well right now in spring ball, and Marquise Vann has had a lot of reps out there -- as has Jefferson Ashiru, he's had a lot of reps out there. Brandon Steg is playing pretty good in coverage right now. We've got Omaine Stephens, who had a shoulder surgery done after the season, so he's a young guy who's got some talent there as well. So I think we've got some guys, some good players we've got to replace -- Sio [Moore], we've got to replace Jory [Johnson] and various players, but I think if we can stay healthy and they can keep making progress, I think we've got the potential to be good at the linebacker position.

Defensive lineman Andreas Knappe is a guy with an interesting background, having started playing football later in life than most. What have you made of his progress so far, and what do you expect from him this fall?

PP: He's taken big steps, but the nice thing about Andreas is he finds a way each day to get things corrected, to improve and get better on a daily basis. What I really like about Andreas is his focus, his concentration -- his attention to what he's doing is there every single day. He's a very steady, consistent-effort player, which is a really good sign. And the fact that he is getting better every day is terrific. So we're going to see just how far he can come this spring and how far he can come in the summer and preseason, and then see where he's going to be able to help us defensively and see exactly what he can get done for us next year.

Another new-look spring for Big East

February, 27, 2013
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For the second straight spring, Extreme Makeover: Big East edition has gripped the conference.

Four teams enter practice with an eye toward their first Big East season. Two teams enter spring practice wondering if 2013 is their final Big East season.

The mix makes for quite the dysfunctional pairing, and most likely the only configuration featuring remaining members Cincinnati, UConn, USF and Temple, incoming members UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU and departing members Louisville and Rutgers playing under the same conference umbrella.

Got all that?

What must be most especially difficult for the league this spring is marketing and promoting what should be a preseason top-10 team -- Louisville -- knowing the Cardinals are not long for the Big East world. It was the same scenario that unfolded back in 2011, when West Virginia represented the Big East as its highest-rated Top 25 team and Orange Bowl participant, with a move to the Big 12 just months away.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThere are many question marks at QB in the Big East this spring. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is certainly not among them.
Given all the conference realignment, this is certainly not uncharted territory. But it certainly takes the luster off what should be downright euphoria over having one of the projected marquee teams in all the nation in 2013. Along with that conundrum is the idea that the Big East cannot begin to rebrand itself while it continues to have a hodgepodge of teams with one foot in the door and one foot out.

None of this is new, but it certainly is more than a little uncomfortable. Having said that, Louisville remains the biggest story to watch this spring and into the fall because of the opportunity the Cardinals have in front of them. Not only do they return nearly all of their key starters from the Sugar Bowl-winning team of a season ago, they return soon-to-be junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, already a preseason Heisman candidate.

Last spring, he was incredible, completing 70 percent of his passes in a near-flawless performance. That translated into a super sophomore season that not only has people talking Heisman now, it also has them talking about whether this is his final spring in a Cardinals uniform. Another solid spring showing from him, and Louisville should cement its standing as the preseason favorite to win the Big East, with an outside shot as a dark horse national title contender.

Louisville, however, is only one of a handful of Big East schools with quarterback certainty. UCF returns Blake Bortles, who had a 3,000-yard season in 2012 as the Knights went 10-4 in their final year in Conference USA. He is perhaps the next-best quarterback in the league, although that is probably up for debate, as Cincinnati returns Brendon Kay.

But Kay is going to face some competition this spring, with new coach Tommy Tuberville taking charge. He is not the only incumbent who is sure to be pushed. At Rutgers, coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova remains the starter, but new offensive coordinator Ron Prince is certainly going to want to see what all his signal-callers have to offer. At Memphis, Jacob Karam must win his starting job again. At SMU, Garrett Gilbert needs to work on his consistency. So does UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who is going to see some competition for his job as well.

At Houston, David Piland is in for a fight for his spot. USF and Temple need starters, too. The Bulls lose veteran B.J. Daniels and return Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld. The Owls rotated between Chris Coyer and Clinton Granger last season, but Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome could figure into the mix as well with new coach Matt Rhule taking charge.

The quarterback position in the Big East represents the league as a whole: plenty of uncertainty this spring.


Tell me if you have heard this one before: Cincinnati, Big East champs.

The Bearcats won at least a share of the Big East for the second consecutive season and the fourth time in the past five years with a 34-17 win over UConn on a frigid Saturday, denying the Huskies a bowl spot for the second straight season.

Neither team had much success rushing the football -- nobody went over 100 yards on the ground. Instead, both had to rely on the pass and the Bearcats are simply better in that area than the Huskies. They have been all season. UConn tried to hit some big plays early in the game, but its receivers had a hard time hanging onto the football.

Meanwhile, UConn saw first-hand why other teams have had a tough time slowing down Travis Kelce, who showed why he is the best tight end in the Big East this season. The Huskies had no answer for him, as Kelce accounted for three total touchdowns -- two receiving and one passing.

The turning point, though, came in the third quarter, after Chandler Whitmer took a shot to the head and was forced to leave the game for the second straight week. Johnny McEntee came on in relief. Last week, he was able to lead the Huskies (5-7, 2-5) to the upset win over Louisville. But this week, he threw two interceptions -- including a critical one with UConn trailing 24-17. The Bearcats (9-3, 5-2) converted that mistake into a touchdown run by George Winn, and they never looked back.

Cincinnati finishes the season in a four-way tie atop the Big East standings, declared co-champions with Rutgers, Louisville and Syracuse. The Bearcats' most likely postseason destination is the Belk Bowl in North Carolina against an ACC opponent. But perhaps the bigger question now is whether coach Butch Jones will stick around for another season.

Jones' name has come up for the openings at Purdue and Colorado. Last season, Jones turned down an offer from Illinois -- where his former athletic director is now in charge. Though Jones has continually said that he is happy with the Bearcats, this is a story that bears watching.

As for UConn, there will now be questions about whether coach Paul Pasqualoni enters next season on the hot seat. UConn made a BCS bowl in 2010 and has followed that up with consecutive 5-7 seasons. The offense leaves plenty to be desired and has led some to wonder whether offensive coordinator George DeLeone is on the hot seat himself.

The defense played well enough to make a bowl game this season. The offense did not, and now the Huskies have to re-evaluate in the offseason.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 14

November, 29, 2012
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Here's what to keep an eye on during the last weekend of the regular season:

1. Rutgers' atmosphere. It's a sellout tonight for the Louisville game. And, well, we remember how crazy it got six years ago during a Thursday night game against the Cardinals. The Empire State Building will be lit red tonight, as it was then, and this time the Scarlet Knights have a chance to leave no doubt about who's atop the Big East.

2. Teddy Bridgewater's health. Broken left wrist. Sprained right ankle. The best quarterback in the Big East is hobbling, as is his team; Louisville has dropped two straight. Can the Cardinals get it together for the most important game of the year? That could be the deciding factor tonight in Piscataway.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Brendon Kay
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIREThe Bearcats, facing the league's No. 1 defense in UConn, need a strong effort from quarterback Brendon Kay.
3. Brendon Kay's effectiveness. Which QB will show up for Cincinnati? The one who dazzled against Temple and USF -- two of the conference's worst teams -- or the one who turned it over twice against Rutgers, the league's second-best defense? Kay will be facing the league's best defense Saturday at UConn, which needs one win to extend its season. Then again, if Louisville wins tonight, the Bearcats will be playing for a share of their fourth conference title in the past five years.

4. Lyle McCombs. The UConn back has rushed for 100 or more yards in each of his past two games. Not coincidentally, those games are the Huskies' only two Big East wins. One more win, and they go bowling. Also keep an eye on who is handing the ball off to McCombs, as QB Chandler Whitmer's status remains up in the air after he got knocked out of last week's game.

5. Pitt's streak of twos. Lose two, win two, etc. If Pitt's season continues on the path it's been on, the Panthers will impress at USF this weekend and extend their season into a bowl game. That would be big for a season that began with two crushing losses, and even bigger for a program that would get 15 extra practices under a first-year head coach.

6. USF's response. At 3-8, the Bulls are having their worst season in program history. They lost six in a row at one point this season. They have been so devastated by injuries that a third-stringer is starting the finale at quarterback. Will they channel all that frustration into one final, strong performance against Pitt?
What did we learn in the Big East in Week 13? Glad you asked.

1. Nothing is ever easy in the Big East. Does anybody want to win the conference? The two ranked teams in the league dropped games to teams with LOSING records on Saturday. No. 18 Rutgers choked at Pitt -- the second year in a row the Scarlet Knights fell to a losing team with a Big East title on the line. The Scarlet Knights could have won the league championship outright AND a BCS bowl berth had they won, because No. 20 Louisville went ahead and lost to offensively challenged UConn in three overtimes. At home. In the end, Rutgers backed into at least a share of its first Big East championship, but this is not the way anybody in Piscataway envisioned it happening. Now, as anticipated, the game between Rutgers and Louisville on Thursday night in New Jersey is for a BCS bowl berth. But how excited can a Big East fan get about a matchup of two teams that had major letdowns Saturday?

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireNursing a broken wrist and a bum leg, one can only wonder about Teddy Bridgewater's effectiveness against Rutgers.
2. M*A*S*H Saturday. The list of starters who got hurt Saturday reads like a M*A*S*H Unit: Quarterbacks Gary Nova, Chandler Whitmer and Teddy Bridgewater; running back Jawan Jamison; and linebacker Khaseem Greene. All but Whitmer were able to go back into their games and play. Afterward, each injured player insisted he would be ready for Week 14. The one who poses the biggest concern is Bridgewater, who played the second half with a broken wrist, then sustained a leg injury late in the game. Louisville oach Charlie Strong said Bridgewater would be fine, but how effective will he be, particularly if Rutgers comes after him the way UConn did?

3. Pitt, UConn remain in bowl contention. Most everybody had written off Pitt and UConn heading into their respective games Saturday, considering their opponents. But both pulled off upset victories and need a win in their regular-season finales to get back to a bowl game. We should have known Pitt would come back strong following its bye, considering the Panthers have this strange trend of losing two games, then winning two games. They had dropped two going into their contest at Rutgers, so the pattern called for a win. Tino Sunseri played pretty perfectly, and Ray Graham rushed for more than 100 yards against one of the best defenses in the Big East. As for the Huskies, they showed signs of life under Johnny McEntee in overtime. UConn has now scored 47 total points in back-to-back games after scoring 33 in its previous four games combined. Pitt plays at USF next week; UConn hosts Cincinnati.

4. Syracuse and Cincinnati can win Big East titles, too. Although neither team has a shot at representing the Big East in the BCS, both have hopes of winning at least a share of the Big East title. If Louisville beats Rutgers and Cincinnati beats Connecticut, four teams will finish in a tie for first place. Each would be declared Big East champion. While winning titles is old hat for the Bearcats, it's not for Syracuse. The Orange last won at least a share of a Big East title back in 2004, when there also was a four-way tie for first. It would be something if the Big East had to crown champions headed out the door for new conferences in consecutive seasons. Syracuse coach Doug Marrone deserves a tremendous amount of credit for turning around a team that opened the year 2-4. This title shot is reminiscent of the turnaround Louisville made last season.

5. Temple closes its first Big East season. The Owls wrapped up Year 1 in the Big East with their first losing record since 2008, but coach Steve Addazio will tell you that not all was lost this season. Most everybody picked Temple to finish last in the league. But the Owls did win two games -- including one over current last-place team USF. Montel Harris rushed for more tha 1,000 yards, and many freshmen gained valuable playing experience to set them up for the future. This was a year for Temple to gauge where it stands in a tougher conference. Many will expect much more improvement in Year 2.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
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Here are the players who stood out the most during Week 11 in the Big East.

Sio Moore, LB, UConn: Six tackles, three for loss -- including two sacks -- and one hurry. Moore had two pass break-ups, too, as the Huskies notched their first win in more than a month and their first Big East win of the season. Special recognition here for Chandler Whitmer, too, who delivered a strong performance in completing 19 of 25 passes for 213 yards.

Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers: What more can you say about the reigning Big East defensive player of the year? He was probably the front-runner to repeat before Saturday, and he definitely is now after his 22-tackle performance in a 28-7 win against Army. He forced a fumble in the red zone, too.

Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse: Lemon constantly got open Saturday, burning Louisville's secondary and playing the biggest role in the Orange's rout of the Cardinals. Lemon finished with 176 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches. Special recognition here for Ryan Nassib (15 of 23, 246 yards, 3 TDs) and Jerome Smith (144 rushing yards) as well, as Syracuse was brilliant offensively and did not turn the ball over.

Brendon Kay, QB, Cincinnati: Coach Butch Jones waited until game day to name Kay his starter, and the fifth-year senior did not disappoint. Kay completed 13 of 21 passes for 244 yards and threw touchdown passes of 75 and 65 yards, leading the Bearcats to a 34-10 rout of Temple. Kay added 71 rushing yards on seven carries as well.

UConn surprises Pitt 24-17

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
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Many of us thought a letdown could be in store for Pitt on Friday night after the Panthers dropped a triple-overtime heartbreaker to Notre Dame last week.

But nobody expected what actually happened against the Huskies.

Connecticut -- so hapless on offense for most of the season -- set the tone early on with dominant play up front and then held off a furious Pitt rally to end a four-game losing streak and win 24-17 and keep its bowl hopes alive. Pitt failed to show up in the first half, trailing 24-0 at halftime before deciding to make a game of it.

The Huskies (4-6, 1-4) helped them out, continuing their second-half scoring struggles. In five Big East games, UConn has a total of three second-half points. In this one, Jarred Holley intercepted Chandler Whitmer in the end zone with 4:57 to go and the Huskies up 24-10.

Pitt (4-6, 1-4) turned the mistake into a score when Tino Sunseri threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Mike Shanahan with 2 minutes, 46 seconds remaining. But Whitmer made up for his earlier miscue with a huge third-down conversion on a pass to Shakim Phillips to ice the game.

Pitt now has to win out over Rutgers and South Florida to get back to a bowl game. Panthers fans have come to expect these types of games from the most enigmatic team in college football. One week, they lose to Youngstown State. Another week, they nearly upset the No. 3 team in the country.

On Friday night, it was just another bad loss to a team that was winless in Big East play going into the game. Consider:
  • UConn was one of the worst teams in the nation in total offense, scoring offense and rushing offense going into the game. The Huskies had gone four consecutive games without rushing for 100 TOTAL yards. But against the Panthers, they went over the century mark and Lyle McCombs had his first 100-yard game since Sept. 22 against Western Michigan.
  • The Huskies scored over 20 points for the first time since notching 24 on Sept. 29 against Buffalo.
  • UConn, maligned all season for the play of its offensive line, had perhaps its best game of the season in successfully controlling the line of scrimmage.

The Huskies also got an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown from Nick Williams in the first half to help build their 24-0 lead. Two huge players on the night for UConn: tight end Ryan Griffin, who tied a career-high with six receptions for 84 yards and a score; and linebacker Sio Moore, who was a one-man wrecking crew.

Pitt simply could not move the ball with any consistency, getting 48 total yards rushing. Sunseri ended up with over 300 yards passing, but it was too little, too late.

USF ends six-game losing streak

November, 3, 2012
11/03/12
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No fourth-quarter meltdown Saturday night.

Rejoice, South Florida.

The Bulls put together a stellar defensive performance and held on to win a close game, beating UConn 13-6 to snap a six-game losing streak and pick up their first Big East win.

USF got its first two interceptions of the season -- and both came at crucial times in the fourth quarter. Jon Lejiste got the first with 6:27 left in the game. That pick led to a 50-yard field goal from Maikon Bonani to put the Bulls up 13-6.

The second came with UConn threatening to devastate USF in the fourth quarter again. The Huskies drove deep into USF territory, but defensive tackle Elkino Watson batted the ball in the air and came up with the game-saving pick. Watson held onto the ball on the sideline as the offense jogged back onto the field, and you understand why. This win -- and this defensive performance -- were a long time coming for a team many believed would challenge for the Big East title.

In addition to the defensive performance, USF (3-6, 1-4) was able to hang on to win without starting quarterback B.J. Daniels, who was injured following a run earlier in the fourth quarter that gave USF a first-and-goal from the UConn 8. Daniels was helped off the field while putting no weight on his left leg and was later carted off the field to the locker room. He broke his left ankle, and is out for the year.

Matt Floyd came in and could not punch the ball in for a touchdown, but on this night, stringing to together a few field goals late was enough -- because the Huskies are seemingly regressing on offense. Chandler Whitmer was able to make some plays against the shaky USF secondary, but the Huskies (3-6, 0-4) could never string together consistent drives without shooting themselves in the foot. Not only were there turnovers, there were botched snaps and lapses in pass protection. The run game managed a paltry 43 yards.
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How's that for a bounce-back performance?

A week after turning it over four times and ruining an upset chance on the road, Syracuse connected on all cylinders Friday night, riding a 100-yard receiver, a 100-yard rusher and a quarterback who was nearly flawless to victory in a 40-10 rout of Connecticut.

Not the happiest of homecomings for Paul Pasqualoni.

The Huskies' defense entered the Carrier Dome ranked sixth in the nation, but it had no answer for an Orange team that rattled off the game's final 27 points, including a 20-0 second-half shutout.

Ryan Nassib got to call it a day early after completing 14 of 20 passes for 251 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers, adding 20 rushing yards on six carries. Jerome Smith ran for 133 yards on just 19 carries, and Alec Lemon was all over the field, catching eight passes for 166 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown grab late in the third quarter that made it 37-10.

UConn's offense was predictably stagnant, totaling negative-6 rushing yards on the night. Lyle McCombs played but managed just 17 yards on 11 carries. In a rather fitting play to cap the contest, Chandler Whitmer was picked off in front of the goal line by Shamarko Thomas, who then danced around and wasted 17 seconds before finally getting tackled deep in UConn territory with 54 seconds remaining. Whitmer was assessed a personal foul on the return as well.

That was the only throw that Whitmer had picked off, and it marked just the fourth interception of the season recorded by Syracuse. Whitmer completed 23 of 41 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown. That score was a 32-yard second-quarter toss to Ryan Griffin that cut the lead to 13-10, but it was all Syracuse from that point forward.

You can't ask for much more than what Syracuse showed in another Friday-night home victory, its second this season. The Orange are now 2-1 in Big East play, getting a win they desperately needed if they want to go bowling for the first time in two years. The forecast is not so bright for the Huskies, who have dropped three consecutive games to open conference play and will have a bye week to try to gather themselves.

An offense averaging just 9 points per Big East contest will get plenty of dissection, but on Friday night it was the defense that let UConn down.

Temple stuns UConn in overtime

October, 13, 2012
10/13/12
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Well, the Big East has rolled out the red carpet for Temple.

The Owls pulled the come-from-behind overtime win over Connecticut 17-14 on the road Saturday afternoon. Temple posted 17 unanswered points for the victory. This marks the first time in school history Temple (3-2, 2-0) has won back-to-back Big East games. Temple pulled another stunner last week, beating USF in its first Big East game since 2004.

At the beginning of the game, there were not many indications this would go Temple's way. UConn (3-4, 0-2) jumped out to a quick 14-0 first-quarter lead as quarterback Chandler Whitmer picked apart the Temple defense. In fact, he had 159 yards passing in the first quarter alone. Temple, meanwhile, could not get anything going against the No. 1 run defense in the Big East.

It looked as if the Huskies would have no trouble.

But Temple started chipping away once it got its running game going midway through the second quarter. Montel Harris got the Owls on the board late in the quarter, running for 62 of Temple's 80 yards on the scoring drive. UConn could not get going on offense, and the offensive line in particular did this group no favors. The Huskies also played without leading rusher Lyle McCombs, though replacement Max DeLorenzo held his own with 90 yards rushing.

UConn blew several opportunities to build on its lead. Kicker Chad Christen missed three field goals in regulation. Temple, meanwhile, came up short on several opportunities of its own, fumbling at the UConn 25 just before halftime. Then later in the fourth quarter, with opportunities to kick field goals, coach Steve Addazio went for it on fourth down but came up short.

Temple got one final chance with 2:56 remaining. The Owls were able to convert twice on fourth down, and then Chris Coyer made two incredible throws -- the first a 33-yarder to Deon Miller on third-and-13, and then the last to Jalen Fitzpatrick for a 14-yard touchdown with 19 seconds remaining. That sent the game into overtime.

Once again, UConn could not move the ball and sent out Christen. He missed his fourth field goal of the day, this one a 28-yarder. Temple kicker Brandon McManus made his 29-yarder when he got his chance, and the Owls came out with the victory. Harris ended up with his second straight 100-yard game, carrying the ball 30 times for 142 yards with a touchdown. He got the majority of the carries with Matt Brown on the sideline because of a sprained ankle.

As Steve Addazio celebrates the win over his former mentor, questions about whether UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni is on the hot seat are only growing stronger. UConn has a defense that can keep the Huskies in games, but it has been futile on offense. UConn has now lost to Temple and Western Michigan this season, raising serious questions about whether UConn is headed in the right direction.

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